Recorded live with The Ictus Ensemble in 2010 at the Holland Festival, Laborintus II is the latest recording credit from the eternally unpredictable Mike Patton. The three-part offering, written to celebrate Dante’s 700th birthday, is a new take on the work of experimental Italian composer Luciano Berio (as inspired by poet Edoardo Sanguineti).
It’s the latest record pulling Patton towards the worlds of orchestras, classical music, and film scores, but listeners expecting something like Patton’s Mondo Cane project (of 1950s and ’60s Italian orch-pop tunes) or like his soundtrack to The Solitude of Prime Numbers will be thrown for a loop. Berio’s piece is an experimental and asymmetrical work, more reminiscent of Patton’s efforts with John Zorn — fragmented, capricious, and alternately dissonant and melodic.
Set to music, the lyrics sound like a high-drama narrative, twisting and turning as tension builds and releases. (The poem itself plays with Dante’s themes combined with texts from TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Sanguineti, and the bible.)
Much of Laborintus II pushes and pulls against the boundaries of experimental and classical, as Patton narrates in Italian while sopranos exclaim in tandem. At a few brief climaxes, the music bursts with the power and feel of a jazz ensemble, and for a good stretch during “Part Two,” the music reaches its loudest and densest points with a lengthy free-jazz stretch. Shortly thereafter, the piece’s electronics bring themselves to the fore amid a chaotic but intricately composed passage.
By the time “Part Three” begins with a gong, the apex has been reached; the following five minutes serve as an aural denouement. Though the narration isn’t a “story,” the listener can’t help but feel like he or she’s at the end of a journey — one, as the piece’s closing whispers suggest, that seems to end ominously.